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Saturday, June 12, 1999 Published at 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK


Paras to establish Nato base

British troops have been crossing the border since Saturday

British troops leading Nato's peacekeeping force are waiting to set up headquarters in Kosovo after their arrival at Pristina airport.

Kosovo: Special Report
Colonel Nick Clissitt confirmed that 1st Battalion Paratroop Regiment had arrived in the Kosovan capital and that "the deployment has gone very well".

Nato commander Lieutenant General Sir Mike Jackson has also arrived in the capital - but his pressing problem is how to deal with the 200-strong contingent of Russian troops who arrived on Friday night, hours before Nato.

Once talks have agreed respective roles for the two parties a Nato base, set up by British troops, will be established.

Gen Jackson, British commander of the K-For international peace implementation force, has earmarked the airport as the strategically vital site for the headquarters.

[ image:  ]
About 700 Nato soldiers are now gathered as part of Operation Joint Guardian. They were airlifted 20 miles inside Kosovo at first light on Saturday, and then spent the rest of the day travelling by road toward the capital.

The first phase of Nato's deployment in Kosovo is now said to be complete.

More British troops are expected in Pristina during Sunday morning, travelling in from an overnight base 10 miles from the outskirts.

[ image:  ]
But Nato's soldiers have had a mixed reception from the civilians they have encoutered.

In ethnic Albanian villages, civilians who had been hiding in the hills came running to the roadside clapping and waving. But in Serb villages, Nato was met with scowls and insults.

At one point some soldiers of the Yugoslav army shouted abuse at the Nato troops.

(Click here to see an animated map showing timetable of Serb withdrawal and Nato's planned movements)

UK Armed Forced Minister Doug Henderson told the daily Ministry of Defence briefing in London on Saturday that Nato troops advancing on Pristina faced a "perilous task", with hazards like mines and booby traps likely to be encountered along the way.

[ image:  ]
But the alliance says so far so good. Speaking via a live link from Skopje, the British commander in Macedonia, Major General Richard Dannert, said British forces had encountered elements of the Serb army and interior ministry police, as well as the KLA, but had met with no opposition.

Mr Henderson said he accepted Mr Ivanov's explanation for the Russian troops' early arrival, adding that discussions are under way with the Russians to "resolve command and control issues" in Kosovo.

The Nato operation appeared to be moving forward swiftly and UK Defence Secretary George Robertson praised the troops involved.

He said: "The signs of the professionalism and the training and the preparation are all coming together here.

"I am extremely pleased that we are now in there and that the troops of Nato will soon get to grips with creating a safe environment. We will then start to fulfil our promise to get those refugees home."

[ image: The Hercules plane burns on the runway]
The Hercules plane burns on the runway
Final preparations for the mission were overshadowed on Friday night when a British Hercules aircraft exploded in flames on a runway in Albania.

The Ministry of Defence said a C130 Hercules transport plane caught fire during take-off from Kukes. One person suffered minor injuries.

All 12 crew members were evacuated from the aircraft, just before ammunition on board let off loud explosions.

An Independent Radio News reporter near the scene said he saw "a big flash, a huge explosion, immediately afterwards huge plumes of smoke billowed up into the skies".

[ image:  ]

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